By Jae Oh
I open my eyes with the sounds of roosters and distant church bells letting me know it is 6 am. I stretch a little inside the warmth of my sleeping bag and take a peek at the daylight coming through a window. ‘Another exciting day is about to start!’ I struggle with the bug net as I get down from my bed and step out though a creaking door. Only some dim sunlight fills in the hostel but that is enough for me to start reminiscing about yesterday in my journal. One of the kitchen ladies brings in hot water bottles for tea or coffee, fresh fruit which are mostly bananas, and hot steaming mandazi, local donuts, for breakfast. The smell of fresh brewed tea and sweet bread wakes people up one by one and soon the breakfast table is bursting with conversations about last night’s dreams or plans for the days to come. A typical morning in Makupo Village begins.
The curriculum development crew, eight passionate Canadian university students with Francis, Thomas, the new teacher at the new school, and a prospective high school teacher, Cynthia, get together from 9 to 4 at our working room in Chilanga High School. There, we gather our brains to build unit plans for a grade one curriculum merging with the Quebec Education Program to suit the culture and needs of the local people. The new school site has been decided and foundations are already set in place encouraging us to catch up. At first, the task in front of us seemed so big and impossible to finish in time; however, once the crew got into the rhythm, the momentum started to build. Two weeks went by like a flash and we are already looking into editing and finalizing what we have accomplished. We separate into smaller groups and work on several units at a time and share ideas and suggestions when problems arise as a big crew. Any ideas and parts I overlook, others will lend helping hands and vice versa; we became the real example of entrepreneurship, creativity, and critical thinking that we aim to portray through the new curriculum.
After a hard day’s work comes a delicious meal. For lunch or dinner, either rice or nsima is served with various side dishes, such as beans, green mustard leaves, peas, cabbages, eggs, goat or beef meat, and the new addition, soya pieces fried in tomato, onion, and curry base. Some are similar to Korean cuisine, but much greasier, which is understandable considering meat is not a part of the daily food for many locals and they need an alternative source of fat. I helped out in the kitchen a few times, making mandazi or cutting vegetables and the ladies are always glad to have extra hands and stories to share. The only rule is to never touch rice because it has been a problem where people occasionally find rocks breaking their teeth.
De-stressing is another important part of the day to get replenished and energized for the work ahead. After dinner, people gather around the sofa, checking up on each other and sharing light conversations and jokes. Some break away from the group to have a relaxing time on their own, by writing journals and blogs, reading books, or listening to music. Once in a while, we get to reconnect with the outside world through internet and phone calls. Whenever I receive calls or emails from the beloved ones, my heart warms up the way it never did and I appreciate the memories we share. Funny thing is that I’m describing a typical day but for three weeks, not a single day went by the same as other days. Each day has been a special day. One night, we all danced around a bonfire and built closer ties with the Makupo villagers. By a lucky chance, we had a rainy day which is very rare during this dry season. It looked more like mist than rain but the sudden weather change and drop of temperature reminded us that it was, in fact, winter in Africa. When the day comes to an end with the moon rising among millions of starts, another perfect night in Malawi starts with wishes of good night and snuggling back into the sleeping bag, drifting off into adventurous dreams. Usiku Wabwino! Good night!